US Senators Hope to Give Dalai Lama a Congressional Gold Medal

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill to give Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the legislature's highest civilian award.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California and Senator Craig Thomas, a Republican from Wyoming introduced the bill Thursday. In a statement, the senators said the bill has support from 73 of the nation's 100 senators. At least two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, plus the U.S. president, must support a move to give someone the award.

The medal can be awarded for a singular achievement or a lifetime of service. Recipients do not have to be U.S. citizens.

The Dalai Lama has been a controversial figure for decades. Earlier Thursday, China's foreign ministry accused him of using a trip to Latin America to promote Tibetan secession from China.

In a statement, a foreign ministry spokesman said the Dalai Lama is not a purely religious figure but a political exile engaged in activities designed to split China. The spokesman urged Latin American nations to be - in his words - on "high alert" for what he called the Dalai Lama's secessionist activities.

The Dalai Lama is currently wrapping up a Latin American tour that has included stops in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.